The Walk To Freedom

The halls echoed to the sound of my black leather shoes tapping the cold cement. The smell of meldew and mulch became thicker as I walked deeper into the building.

“This way sir,” the warden said with a pointing finger. My steps faltered and I wanted to turn and run. How could anybody live or survive in a dump like this?

“Almost there sir.” The warden took a hard left and I followed, too scared to fall behind. An eerie scream cut through the air and I felt goosebumps all over my skin. The source of the scream was another cell.

It was just a bad dream, I told myself. I would open my eyes and find myself in bed
next to my lovely wife. But it wasn’t so. The sound of a metal gate opening brought me back to reality. “You have half an hour sir.” I stepped into the tiny cell and jumped when the gate slammed shut behind me. This was Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison, Cape Town South Africa: where the most dangerous criminals in the country were kept.

“Goodmorning sir,” I greeted with a nervous cough. The man turned around from the window,
his movements slow and calculated. I had dreamt about this moment. But now that it was here, I wasn’t too sure whether I could handle it or whether I was the right man for the job. The man standing in front of me was a legend, a hero, an
icon, a father of a nation and very imposing. And I on the other hand… well… what was I? I wasn’t sure.

“You have a message for me?” The man said calmly.

“Yes Mr. Mandela. I have been send by President P.W. Botha to talk to you.” I appraised him just as he did me. This was not the same violent man that I had read about. Something had happened to him while in prison. Now he was changed and molded: compassionate, respectful and oozing a strong radiation of dignity. He said nothing and I realised that he was waiting for me to proceed.

“Mr. Mandela,” I said as I pulled out a letter from my folder. “Today, 31st January 1985, State President P W Botha offers you Mr. Nelson Mandela, leader of the banned African National Congress (ANC), conditional release from prison
sentence since the conclusion of the Rivonia Trial in 1964. The condition of this release is that you renounce violence, and violent protests, as a means to bring about change in South Africa.” I finished and handed the letter over.

He glanced once at the paper and then looked me in the eye. “We are not a violent
people Mr…”

“Harris.”

Mandela continued. “The ANC Party only adopted violence when all other channels of
resistance were denied. Understand this very clearly Mr. Harris, my colleagues and I wrote in 1952 to Malan asking for a round table conference to find a solution to the problems of our country but was ignored. When Strijdom was in power, we
made the same offer. Again it was ignored. When Verwoerd was in power we asked for a national convention for all the people in South Africa to decide on their future. This too was in vain. It was only then, when all other forms of resistance were no longer open to us that we turned to armed struggle.”

It is an understatement to say that Mandela was a great leader. I had heard stories about how intelligent he was but just standing there and listening to him, was beyond awesome. The man was good. But he was not done yet.

“Mr. Harris, don’t get me wrong. I cherish my freedom dearly, but I care more for the freedom of my people. Too many have died since I came to prison. Too many have suffered for the love of freedom. I owe it to their widows, to their orphans, to their mothers and to their fathers who have grieved and wept for them. Not only I, have suffered during these long lonely wasted years. I am not less life-loving than you are. But I cannot sell my birthright, nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free. I am in prison as the representative of the people and the banned African National Congress.”

I studied the face as he spoke, listened to the articulate words. 21 years in prison and still the man didn’t flinch. Its true what they say about
resilience. Its not always just about bouncing back. No. After coping with the stress brought about by change, resilience has the ability to ‘steel’ a man and mold him into something better and stronger.

I arrived home late in the eveining, my mind bogged down. Something had happened to me, but I wasn’t sure what. It was as though I was a different person. I stood outside the front door and pondered over Nelson Mandela’s last words: I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and see realized. But my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal which I am prepared to die.

I opened the door and walked into the warm living room of my house.

“Daddy!” My six year old son cried at the sight of me. “Daddy, you are home?”

“Yes, son. Daddy is home.”

“Daddy, did you free Nelson Mandela?” The voice of innocence. Blue expectant eyes stared at me and I felt my heart flitter. I opened my mouth but words didn’t come out. On any other day, I would have said something to put a smile on my boy’s face. But today was different. I wanted him to know the truth. I wanted him to understand the meaning of the word freedom and what it meant to have it taken away.

 



Apartheid: Def; It was a segregated political
system in South Africa from 1948 to the early 1990s that separated the different peoples living there and gave privileges to those of European origin.

 

 

 

 

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My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.

 

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